Politics & Policy

It’s Time for an Anti-Trump Manhattan Project

(Ethan Miller/Getty)

For the last eight months or so, a significant portion of the Republican party’s voters have been in thrall to a bizarre, Occupy-esque conspiracy theory, which holds as its central thesis that sabotage and pusillanimity are the root causes of the Right’s recent woes. In this mistaken view, the conservative movement’s failure to counter all of the Obama era’s excesses is not the product of the crucial democratic and structural factors that prevent any one faction from ushering in substantial change, but of a lack of will or desire. Sure, the advocates of this view will concede, the shutdown of 2013 was doomed from the start, in large part because the public sided with President Obama. But if the GOP had just held out a little longer, they imagine, the “power of the purse” would have prevailed and the popular dynamics would magically have shifted. The same insistence obtains elsewhere: Sure, there is no precedent in which a second-term president willingly repeals his centerpiece legislative achievements simply because the legislature has elected to play hardball with its powers. But somehow, the critics believe, this time would have been different. Why, they ask repeatedly, didn’t the Republican party just “fight” harder?

Given how broadly this opinion is held, one would have expected the 2016 primary season to reveal a penchant for purity that redounded to the favor of a candidate such as Ted Cruz. And yet, oddly enough, quite the opposite has happened thus far. Led by Donald Trump, the most frustrated voters have instead put their efforts behind a well-telegraphed attempt to burn down the whole political edifice and reconstruct it from scratch. Because it has been imperfect, the GOP must be destroyed.

On its face, this theory is irrational to the point of absurdity — if I am told one more time that it makes sense to nominate a single-payer-supporting defender of Planned Parenthood because Congress’s repeal-and-defund bill was vetoed by the incumbent, I shall begin to order bourbon in bulk. But it is also likely to be catastrophic for the very people who are cheering it along. Far from being at the bottom of its fortunes, the GOP is in fact coming to the end of a long, slow, tough effort to rebuild after the disaster of 2008 — an effort that would benefit everybody involved if it could be completed. At present, the party’s primary national problem is that it does not run the White House, and, therefore, cannot overcome the final constitutional hurdle to ushering in significant nationwide change despite its huge power in the House, its small advantage in the Senate, and its considerable presence in the states. If Donald Trump were to be the party’s nominee — and if his being so were to do to both the presidential and down-ballot races what polling suggests it would — this problem would not be solved so much as reset from scratch. As Avi Woolf pointed out yesterday, far from hastening the advent of real reform, the Trump movement is unconsciously channeling the strategy employed by Peter III in the Seven Years War: Namely, to give up just as there is a chance of a big breakthrough, and to hand full political control to the enemy as a result. If the Trump contingent should succeed in this endeavor, the party would not emerge refreshed or improved; it would be summarily returned to where it was languishing back in early 2009.

And if that should happen? Well, suffice it to say that it would be an unmitigated, unalloyed, potentially unsalvageable disaster. For the first time in years, the Right’s defenses would be completely destroyed, perhaps never to be rebuilt. Swiftly, the courts would be packed with ideologues; immediately, Congress would run through the remaining items on the Obama-Clinton laundry list; before the voters had a chance to stop them, the White House would usher in an irreversible amnesty; and, Trump having been turned into a pariah by a hostile press, his “anti-PC” attitude would be rendered toxic in perpetuity. The likely result of Trump’s selection as the Republican nominee, in other words, would be the entrenchment of all that his supporters claim vehemently to hate. That thrill that his acolytes would feel when they saw Trump named the winner of the primaries? It’d be gone in a matter of minutes.

#share#If I sound frightened or eschatological in my tone, that’s because I am — not, pace Trump’s obsessed chorus, because I am worried about the security of my job or scared that I will lose some mythical umbilical link to Reince Priebus’s champagne parties, but because we are fighting for everything here and a plurality of the Right’s voters are sleepwalking in lockstep with the other side. How, one wonders, will future generations look back at this behavior? How will they comprehend that at the end of February 2016 under 10 percent of all super PAC spending had been trained on Donald Trump? How will they see John Kasich’s admission that he doesn’t know if he should even be president, or process that Ben Carson put the construction of his own political shopping network above the country he supposedly loved? And what will they make of the fact that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio wasted so much time pretending that they meaningfully disagreed with each other? Now is the time to throw everything at Trump, and to stop this disaster in its tracks. Will our children wonder why we were so reluctant?

Tomorrow night, as they stand on either side of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor.

Incidentally, when I say “everything,” I really do mean everything. Tomorrow night, as they stand on either side of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor. Without breaks for water or silence for applause, they must explain that Trump is an entitled mess whose business record is so questionable that he managed to bankrupt a casino; that he is an unashamed fraud who didn’t even wait to be elected president before folding on Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, exactly like the “feckless” Congress he is running against; that he is feigning religiosity to appeal to people he believes are rubes; and, above all, that whatever he may be pretending now, he has spent a lifetime screwing the little guy. They must repeat verbatim his previous words on amnesty; they must outline in detail how his policies will make life worse for everyone; and they must point out that a Trump nomination designed to “mix things up” will result, eventually, in more of the same.

In the meantime, conservatives who are not running for president must ensure that every spare dollar is spent attacking Trump. Melt down the fences if you have to; we need long-range bombers here. If Donald Trump can flood the airwaves with his nonsense, his opponents can counter it incessantly. And while they are at it, they can tie him up in court, just as he’s trying to do to Cruz. There are a good number of “just asking” questions ready to be put to them, among them “Trump’s mother was Scottish, can he really be president?” and “Trump ran a host of scams designed to rip off the poor; surely one of them would like to sue him?” Thus far, part of Trump’s media strategy has been to say something outrageous and then to move on before it can be rebutted or fact-checked. Why are his rivals not doing the same thing to him? Why, moreover, are the men in charge of the big guns all-but flirting with the snipers on the other side?

#related#Noah Rothman is correct when he proposes that this primary season is not yet over, and both Jonathan Bernstein and David Wasserman are correct when they identify a few scenarios in which Trump could still lose the nomination. But such analyses do little to explain what would need to happen in the background for those remaining paths to become navigable. As of today, that answer is clear: The anti-Trump forces that still make up the majority of the Republican coalition must begin an expedited Manhattan Project, the sole aim of which is to bring down the front-runner piece by unpleasant piece. “If not us, who?” Ronald Reagan asked in the heat of the 1981 budget battle. “If not now, when?” Time to go nuclear, chaps.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

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